Summer 2019 Newsletter

A Fall Welcome

Dear alumni, friends, and supporters of UW Astronomy,

Fall quarter will soon be underway, and we’re excited to share in events for incoming freshman and transfer students through Dawg Daze, our department orientations, and outreach events. Astronomy continues to host free events for the First Friday shows in the planetarium, and open nights at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory (TJO). We particularly hope you’ve been able to visit the TJO this summer, since it’s been a more breathable summer with less smoke and blistering heat.

As our department prepares to welcome not only new students, but also new faculty and staff we’re looking forward to sharing their research, accomplishments, and community outreach with you. While we have high expectations for these new Huskies, our mission is to support them in every possible way. Building a support network and providing resources is part of Astronomy’s mission, and we encourage everyone to participate whenever possible. Thank you for your continued support and input. We invite you to stay connected through our website at:

Graduate Research: Focus on Nicole Sanchez

Natalie “Nicole” Sanchez is a rising fourth year graduate student in the Astronomy Department. She is a member of the UW Nbody Shop and uses cosmological simulations of galaxies to better understand galactic evolution. With her advisor, Dr. Jessica Werk, Nicole focuses on researching the circumgalactic medium (CGM). She is particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms which drive the metal enrichment of the CGM, especially the effects of supermassive black holes. Nicole has recently published her second first-author paper, and is excited for what the future of her work may hold.

A key figure from Nicole’s recently published paper (Sanchez et al. 2019, “Not So Heavy Metals”) which shows the importance of the SMBH’s role in propagating metals out of the disk of a galaxy and enriching the CGM.

“Nicole is a superstar graduate student who is poised to make substantial contributions to our understanding of galaxy-scale feedback and gas flows using novel techniques in hydrodynamical simulations. She drives her research forward with an unwavering sense of vision, and sets an incredibly high bar for herself. Not only is Nicole a superstar Astronomy graduate student, but she is also the superstar lead singer of Night Lunch whose vocals absolutely amaze me. In short, she’s a true inspiration!” –Dr. Jessica Werk

When Nicole isn’t rummaging through computer-simulated galaxies for answers about the universe, Nicole has a laundry list of extracurriculars. Whether it’s hosting the popular monthly Astronomy on Tap series or singing lead vocals for Seattle’s premier only-astronomer band, Night Lunch, she has no problem talking up an audience. Off the stage, she’s invested in supporting the underrepresented members of her community. Through her outreach efforts, such as co-teaching an Astronomy summer camp for middle school girls and being the Academic Advisor for the department’s Pre-MAP program, Nicole hopes to make a positive impact on the climate of her field and help make Astronomy itself a more equitable place. On the rare occurrences when she’s not thinking about astronomy or astronomically-themed endeavors, Nicole spends a lot of time snuggling her miniature long haired Dachshund, Poderosa.

Are We Alone?

Coming soon to a classroom near you: UW’s first astrobiology course designed for undergraduate STEM majors.

UW Astrobiology (UWAB) is primarily a graduate program, offering dual-title PhDs to graduate students who are accepted into the program and seeking their doctorates in associated areas of science, such as Astronomy, Chemistry, Earth & Space Sciences, or Oceanography. UWAB is world-renowned for offering a rich and rigorous graduate-level curriculum in astrobiology, but until now has only provided one course at the undergraduate level: ASTBIO 115 “Astrobiology: Life in the Universe,” which is geared towards liberal arts majors.

Enter “Astrobiology for STEM Majors,” a new course in development by Dr. Michael L. Wong, a postdoc in the Astronomy Department and UWAB. Officially listed as ASTR 497, and to be taught in Winter 2020, this new class will take a quantitative approach to the questions of life’s origins, distribution, and fate in the universe. The course will be taught in three chapters, each roughly three weeks long: Planetary Habitability, The Emergence of Life, and The Search for Biosignatures. Throughout the term, students will be challenged to reflect on scientific definitions of life, dissect the requirements for habitability, debate the merits and weaknesses of various origin-of-life theories, and contemplate cutting-edge methods for looking for life in the cosmos.

Dr. Michael L. Wong and the cuddly planets.

Astrobiology is a highly interdisciplinary venture, and thus this class is open to all students—regardless of major and year—so long as they are willing to apply quantitative tools, critical reasoning, and an open mind to the questions, “Are we alone?” and “Where did we come from?” At the end of the term, students will have gained: a scientific survey of the astrobiological disciplines, an understanding of how their home discipline can be applied to astrobiological problems, and an analytical arsenal with which to hold an intellectual discussion with anyone about some of the greatest scientific questions of our time.

Kudos of the Quarter: Adriana Gomez-Buckley

Adriana is an Astronomy/Physics double-major, an officer of the League of Astronomers club, and dedicates much of her time to outreach work. As the Theodor-Jacobsen Observatory (TJO) event coordinator, she can always be found at the evening open house events.

“I started off as a volunteer at TJO my freshman year at UW, in 2015. For the past 2 years, it’s been my job to not only help run the open house, but to coordinate everything about it. The main thing that the past 4 years at TJO has taught me is that I have a surprising passion for outreach work. The best feelings are teaching others about all that astronomy has to offer, seeing that spark of inspiration in a student who could be a future astronomer, and connecting with guests who are Spanish-speakers like myself. It’s what makes my work so rewarding! Thanks to my supervisor Dr. Bruce Balick, the awesome UW undergraduate and SAS volunteers, and my predecessor who started it all Dr. Ana Larsen, I get to have this amazing outreach opportunity.”

TJO open houses take place from April to September of each year, on the first and third Tuesday evenings of each month. They feature talks given by undergraduates, graduates, and faculty on various astronomy topics, a chance to look through the dome telescope and hear about its history from a Seattle Astronomical Society (SAS) member, hands-on activities, and more.

“Adriana is committed to sharing the night sky and astronomy with people of all ages and places. In addition to her incredibly popular Open Nights at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory–where she not only runs the show, but makes sure there is a show to run! –Adriana has volunteered for the last two years to bring youth from the Pacific Science Center up to Manastash Ridge Observatory. With her help, twelve Discovery Corps members each summer learn about RA and Dec, choose targets, and observe them using the 30″. She works hard to prepare the students, and joins us on the trip as well, and I’m so appreciative of her help sharing astronomy with the wider world!” – Dr. Oliver Fraser

Besides Adriana’s outreach work, she hopes to join a research project in the fall. Outside of academics, she enjoys running and hiking, reading, and spending time with friends and family (including her pet gecko Einstein).

“The Department’s undergraduates run the outreach program (600 visitors per year) at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory. The team has been led by Adriana Gomez-Buckley for the past two years. The TJO program is going to miss her as Adriana works her way into the next chapters of her post-graduate life.” –Professor Bruce Balick

The League of Astronomers Club

We are looking forward to welcoming new and returning students during the upcoming Autumn quarter, starting with giving planetarium shows during Dawg Daze! We’ll keep this momentum into the year as we plan Star Parties in Red Square and other locations on campus, as well as host Tea Time Seminars to connect undergrads with the grad students in the department. For the third year in a row, we look forward to our ball Dancing with the Stars in the Spring. Bonus: We are planning a Halloween-themed event at our observatory in the fall! Stay tuned for more details about Haunted TJO…

League of Astronomers continues to perform outreach with the mobile planetarium.

Our mobile planetarium team has been very active this summer! Here are some of our highlights:

  • We partnered with the Washington Park Arboretum’s summer camp program for several different days throughout the summer. We developed curriculum which covered navigation and how different animals perceive different wavelengths of light. The campers enjoyed being able to connect concepts about animals with the night sky!
  • We traveled to multiple library locations for the Universe of Stories summer program. Some of the locations include Belfair, North Bend, Tacoma, and Fall City.
  • Lastly, we are now hosting regular drop-in working sessions for planetarium presenters. If you’re interested you can sign up for our mobile planetarium email updates to be informed! Email
Students enjoying the mobile planetarium.

A new year brings new officers!

We are excited to introduce this year’s leadership for the League of Astronomers. All our officers are enthusiastic and motivated to continue their involvement in the astronomy community. Below is a list of all the positions we have and a bit of fun info about each person:

President – George Schafer
Favorite astronomical object: Asteroids
Hobby: Skipping stones
Cool fact: Got lost in the woods in the Netherlands

Events Coordinator – Jenny Kim
Favorite astronomical object: Earth
Hobby: Collecting Hobbies
Cool fact: Stepped on a bee hive by accident

Outreach coordinator – Keyan Gootkin
Favorite astronomical object: P Cygni
Hobby: Playing the Ukulele
Cool fact: Was briefly a pirate captain

Secretary – Rebecca Kyer
Favorite astronomical object: X-ray binaries
Hobby: Cooking
Cool fact: Recently accidentally went on a 10 mile hike

Treasurer – Thomas Kennedy
Favorite astronomical object: Galilean moons
Hobby: Dungeons and Dragons
Cool fact: Jack Black’s aunt taught me high school algebra

Honorary Officer  – Cayenne Matt
Favorite astronomical object: Horse head nebula
Hobby: Collecting buttons
Cool fact: Has lived in four countries

Officer Emeritus – Adriana Gomez-Buckley
Favorite astronomical object: Lemon slice nebula
Hobby: Reading and video games
Cool fact: Would love to be an astronaut

Officer Emeritus – Aleezah Ali
Favorite astronomical object: Binary stars
Hobby: Cooking
Cool fact: Can speak 4 languages

The LoA itself holds general meetings every Wednesday at 4:30pm PAB B360 (AKA the Astrolab), and our Tea Time Colloquia with Astronomy’s weekly speaker are Thursdays at 1:30pm also in PAB B360.

You can keep up with our activities and meetings by checking out our Facebook page.